When Phoebe Bridgers, up and coming indie artist, came out with her second studio album, Punisher, on June 18, 2020., it was a welcome surprise for many indie fans longing for new music during quarantine. Bridgers released her first album, Stranger in the Alps, in 2017, reaching wide acclaim and allowing her to collaborate with larger indie artists.
Punisher did well amongst critics, receiving strong praise across various music sites. A large part of the appeal of her music, at least for me, is the contrast of the blunt and self aware lyrics with her soft, wispy voice and melodies. It’s easy to categorize the genre as often sounding overly melancholic and whiney, but Bridgers doesn’t have this problem. The album meshes well together, with recurring motifs, while still having individualistic and distinguishable songs, like the upbeat “ICU” to the more slow and yearning “Moon Song”.
The album starts off with a short instrumental, followed by the very calm and peaceful, “Garden Song”. I appreciated this song in particular for its references to Pasadena, Phoebe’s hometown, with lyrics like “see your reflection in the water, off the bridge at the Huntington”. Even without specific locational references, I found her lyrics to be very relatable in a self deprecating way.
The next song, which was the main single, “Kyoto” is much more upbeat compared to the mellow beginning, but still maintains a similar charm. The instrumentation is much brighter and includes horns, making it very jubilant despite the somewhat dark themes of a flawed parent child relationship.
Out of the next few songs, my personal favorite was the title track “Punisher”. The main source of inspiration for this song and its topic, alongside Bridgers’ music as a whole, is Elliott Smith, who I’m also a large fan of, so I appreciated the subtle ode to him. I found “Halloween” to be one of the weaker tracks, but still very enjoyable, which is a testament to the skill and consistency presented on the album.
The album ends with “I know the end”, which is a very cathartic piece that progressively gets more intense and unhinged, ending with heavy breathing and yelling, a stark contrast from the beginning of the song. This song closes the album well in a very apocalyptic nature, which is reminiscent of the album cover.
Overall, I heavily recommend this album and found it to be a sense of solace in the past few isolated months. I think her lyrics can easily resonate with a large variety of audiences due to broad themes and multiple ways her lyrics can be interpreted, which is why I can see how the album had great public reception.